See how bodies were engineered and built in 1980 in this revealing film from the Fisher Body division of General Motors. Fisher Body doesn’t exist anymore, of course. The General Motors division was dissolved into the parent corporation in 1984, and the familiar Napoleonic coach emblem that signified Body by Fisher disappeared from the…The Innovators: A 1980 Fisher Body Film — Mac’s Motor City Garage
Tire chains can be a driver’s best friend when it comes to handling snowy and icy conditions, but decades ago, General Motors offered something quite novel—even if we don’t know if it actually worked as intended.
What GM called “liquid tire chains” was an option across the entire 1969 Chevrolet lineup of cars, save for the El Camino and station wagons.
Hagerty discovered the unique option of yore and published the corresponding video, which details many other creature comforts available with the 1969 Chevrolet Caprice. As the ad told consumers, the Caprice could apply liquid tire chains to the rear wheels “so it won’t keep sitting there” in snowy weather. Drivers simply pressed a button on the instrument panel and a space-age polymer coated the rear wheels to provide traction.
It’s unclear just how effective this was, but probably not well, judging by the take rate. Chevrolet only sold about 2,600 cars equipped with the option and it was quickly discontinued after the 1969 model year. Still, it’s a pretty neat idea. It also goes to show how awful tire technology was almost 50 years ago.
Although the liquid tire chains weren’t long for this world, plenty of other options found on the 1969 Caprice still exist today. A rear-window defogger, engine block heater, and headlight washers are still common—if not standard—among today’s modern cars.
MAX-TRAC was a traction control system that was way ahead of its time. It measured the speed of the left front wheel and compared it with the output on the transmission. If there was a difference, the ignition would short-circuit so the power on the rear wheels went down.
Because the system had lots of maintenance-problems and emission-control regulations would not allow to keep the system as unsophisticated as it was, it was dropped at all for 73.
Below you find a description from the 71 Buick brochure and from a 72 manual. The text in the brochure is nice: “…..a miniature transistorized computer actually compares the speed of the front and rear wheels…”
“Well, they’ve finally ruined Project X…”
“This is the worst idea I’ve ever seen executed on this car.”
“Look, they turned Project X into a golf cart.”
That last comment about the golf cart seemed to offer some insight. It stemmed from the belief floating around early in the week that the ‘57’s new drivetrain only offered one-hundred-some-odd horsepower–that wouldn’t be enough to excite anyone when mounted to a vehicle that likely weighed around 4,000 lbs with the battery packs. Without the performance, enthusiasts aren’t interested. Clean air and efficient transport might be benefits they’d look for in a commuter, but not in a hot rod. So, even when it became clear that the motor was actually good for about 340 hp, attitudes weren’t swayed much. That’s on par with a garden-variety mild performance small-block these days–no need for alternate propulsion to achieve that.
Again, it is that potential for rapid acceleration that has made the electric motor option at least mildly palatable for many enthusiasts, if not intriguing. While electric cars have existed for nearly as long as cars themselves, for most of its history, the automobile has been motivated by combustion engines, and the electric variations that cropped up sporadically through the years usually seemed like compromised oddities. As such, the tried and true combustion engine had remained essentially unchallenged from a performance standpoint.
But something changed in the 1990s, when General Motors created a concept electric car it called the Impact. It was designed from the ground up to be electric, rather than using an electric drivetrain in a modified existing car. The experiment was interesting enough to garner the attention of the California Air Resources Board, which then mandated that major auto manufacturers produce zero emissions vehicles as a stipulation of continuing to sell conventional combustion engine vehicles in California. General Motors released the EV1, the production electric car that was based heavily on the Impact, and consumers in Southern California and Arizona were allowed to lease the new cars.
Modern rally cars fling themselves sideways around woodland courses with 400 turbocharged horsepower on tap. Today’s Indy cars make between 600 and 750 horsepower to go 230-plus mph at the 500. DTM touring cars from Germany top 600 ponies. And contemporary NASCAR racers churn out 750 horses and regularly touch 200 mph on superspeedways.
This is all context for Chevy announcing its ZZ632/1000 crate engine at SEMA, the annual automotive bacchanalia-infused trade show in Las Vegas. It’s all in the name: The engine displaces 632 cu.in. and makes 1,000 naturally aspirated horsepower (or 1004 horses, but when you’ve entered four-digit-horsepower territory, it’s probably okay to round a little). It also delivers 876 pound-feet of torque on pump gas. That’s more power than a NASCAR stocker or an Indy car has. All that in a box—and maybe between the wheel wells of your own car.
Other crate engines with 1,000 horsepower have been made available, but the ZZ632/1000 is all engine, no power-adder required. The block is shared with GM’s already-available 572-cu.in. crate engine, which includes four-bolt mains and a forged rotating assembly. For 632-cube duty, the block has been treated to a 0.040 overbore and was redesigned to fit connecting rods that are 0.375 inch longer. Those new rods are topped by pistons that, in conjunction with the new CNC-machined aluminum cylinder heads, squeeze the air-fuel mixture as 12.0:1 compression.
The RS-X Symmetrical Port heads were designed by Ron Sperry, one of his final jobs at GM after more than half a century of building hot street and racing engines for GM. Rather than the uneven port shapes of previous big-blocks, these heads feature symmetrical intake and exhaust ports so that no cylinder is “starved”; all eight chambers get an equal air/fuel mix. It’s a trick Sperry used on the Gen III small-block (i.e., the LS engines launched in the C5 Corvette). While not strictly new, it remains an effective power strategy.
Decades upon decades passed when General Motors could do no wrong, and the products rolling off its assembly line were proof positive of its business model’s supremacy. But nobody’s perfect, and mistakes had to be addressed to meet stockholder’s expectations. GM’s design and engineering teams made some great cars with serious potential that were packed with tragic flaws—and received heroic fixes that came right before their curtain calls. It’s all rather tragic, so here are nine examples to prove the point.
1993 Cadillac Allanté (Northstar)
You gotta give General Motors credit, because when it aims for the stars, it grabs a firehose full of ideas and shoots skyward. Take a shortened E-body coupe and turn it into a bespoke V-body, then deliver finished shells from Italy’s Pininfarina to Hamtramck via a convoy of Boeing 747s known as the “Air Bridge.” One of the biggest keys to the Allanté’s failure was the drivetrain layout (front-wheel drive does not a Mercedes SL competitor make) and the mediocre performance of Cadillac’s High Technology V-8 engines.
The lack of power was finally addressed in 1993, the Allanté’s final year, by the rocket-like thrust of Cadillac’s all-new Northstar V-8. The added grunt was competitive, but 1993 also included a heavily revised rear suspension, active dampers, and revised power-steering. As we previously mentioned, the 1993 Allanté was “finally, the internationally competitive luxury roadster its creators had envisioned … albeit six years too late.”
1988 Pontiac Fiero
One of the big problems with the Pontiac Fiero, aside from the engine fires of the early models, was the promise of sporty performance, which wasn’t realized until the last year of production. As we previously mentioned, cost-cutting sealed the Fiero’s fate well before 1988. There was simply too much parts-bin engineering: The compact X-body (Citation) front suspension was flipped 180 degrees and dropped in the back, while the front suspension was lifted from the T-body subcompact (Chevette). It’s a shame that in the Fiero’s final year the necessary suspension upgrades (new front control arms, knuckles, and an all-new tri-link rear suspension, plus a wider front track and, on WS6 models, staggered wheels) and improved brakes (four wheel vented discs) couldn’t alter the course of history. These bits were precisely what Pontiac engineers intended for the Fiero from the get-go. At least we got one year of mid-engine Pontiac Excitement.
2020 Cadillac CT6-V (Blackwing)
Hate to say it, but the Cadillac CT6 is not unlike the Cimarron before it. That’s because the last examples of Cadillac’s J-body experiment indeed improved when a 2.8-liter V-6 and five-speed manual transmission were standard equipment. Similarly, the CT6 never set the world on fire, because a flagship luxury sedan needs more swagger under the hood than a turbocharged four-cylinder could ever provide. (Yes, the CT6’s standard engine was 0.8 liters smaller than what’s on tap for a 1987 Cimarron.)
The CT6 didn’t receive a proper V-8 until the 2020 CT6-V hit the scene with the similarly star-crossed Blackwing motor. Because there is still a market for upper-crust luxury sedans (think Mercedes S-Class), the CT6 deserved an optional V-8 from the start. What happened when the CT6 got it all? Both the engine and the car unceremoniously met their maker
There’s been a lot of buzz in recent years around 1973-’87 Chevrolet light trucks (and their GMC counterparts), aka “square bodies.” Whatever you choose to call them, these boxy trucks are popular because they’re widely available at affordable prices, there’s an abundant parts supply, they’re simple to work on, and they’re a blank slate for modifications
.The current trendiness of 1973-’87 Chevrolet light trucks is inspiring this issue’s buyer’s guide, but it’s probably overdue. While values have been on the upswing—we’ve seen some examples fetch breathtaking amounts at auction—with more than 10 million built, these trucks are still plentiful.
When Chevrolet’s C/K light trucks broke cover for the ’73 model year, they sported a new, more modern-looking profile, with a hood that was flush with the tops of the fenders and doors that were set into the trucks’ roofline. (To clarify: “C” for two-wheel drive, “K” for four-wheel drive, and in ’87 the nomenclature changed for one year on full-size pickups to “R” for two-wheel drive and “V” for four-wheel drive.) A four-door crew-cab model was also introduced as a $1,000 option on 1- and ¾-ton trucks.
Under the skin, updates from the 1967-’72 series included a switch from standard rear coil to leaf springs on two-wheel-drive ½- and ¾-ton trucks, longer front leaf springs and a standard front stabilizer bar on four-wheel-drives, full-time four-wheel drive, and an energy-absorbing steering column. The 454-cu.in. V-8 was offered for the first time, and the fuel tank was moved from inside the cab to outside the frame rails.
It was that last change that would embroil these trucks in controversy and lead to accidental deaths, a federal investigation, millions in court settlement costs, and a nationwide class action lawsuit. Long after the last of these trucks had left showrooms, their side-saddle tank design received a double dose of national media attention. First, in 1992, NBC’s news series Dateline aired a segment that showed a GM truck exploding when it was T-boned by a speeding Chevrolet Citation. Subsequently, Dateline retracted the segment and admitted that it had rigged the truck with incendiary devices to make it explode. But, in 1995, GM agreed to a $600-million settlement over the sidesaddle tanks. As part of the deal, owners of 1973-’87 GM light trucks were issued $1,000 rebates toward the purchase of a new GM vehicle.
Today, 1973-’87 GM light trucks make great projects and excellent work or play rigs. Their popularity means you might pay more for good examples as time marches on, but it also means a better return on investment. Due to the wide range of this guide, it’s a little bit general in some areas. For specific year and model details, go to gmheritagecenter.com, where every brochure from 1973-’87 is available for download, as are detailed information packets with dimensions, options, specifications, and more. That said, if you’re considering one of these hardworking haulers, here are some points to be aware of.
It’s a rare treat indeed when hardcore engine enthusiasts get to peek deep inside vintage and prototype high performance engine packages that never made it to production. On this site we’ve seen the unique internals of the Chevrolet 427 Mystery Motor and other rare engines and now we have an in depth look at a one-off all aluminum canted valve, crossram inducted Chevrolet small block evaluated for the ’69 Z/28.
This car has been featured multiple times in print magazines and their internet versions. All of them recognized that the engine is the single most defining component of this car, yet none of them chose to dig deep enough to bring their readers an insider’s look at this rare canted valve crossram 302ci powerplant. Instead they showed pretty pictures of tail lights, Camaro and Z28 emblems, wheel caps, interior, console instruments and so on; all standard items on any 1969 Z28. What the hell were they thinking? We figure you already know what a 1969 Z28 emblem looks like so check out these photos of the guts behind the glory.
This doubly unique engine is based on an aluminum, 4-inch bore block originally developed under Zora Duntov’s Corvette group. Engineer Bill Howell left the lab in 1967, but he says this engine would have been developed by the V8 group as it would have had to have production intent to be legal for the Trans Am racing series.
About halfway down the long hill leading to the General Motors Proving Ground test tracks in Milford, Michigan, it hit me that the electric concept car I was driving rolled on a cobbled-up show-car suspension and was armed with barely functional brakes. Uh-oh! It would be a supremely stupid, costly, career-ending blunder to crash this incredibly significant hand-built prototype EV by plowing off the fast 90-degree corner that awaited down the hill. Though the concept was called the Impact, I had no intention of putting that name to the test.
But wait! I recalled that the Impact featured variable regenerative braking with a rheostat control between the seats. I eased on the friction brakes, cranked the rheostat up to full regen, and barely made the corner. Whew! Shaken and chastened, I continued carefully to where I—as GM EV program Vehicle Test and Development manager—was heading to give members of the Board of Directors demo rides on the “Black Lake” skidpad.
At the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show, people stopped in their tracks to gawk at this sleek, silver-bullet-shaped concept that would later morph into the EV1. Engineered and developed with high-tech California contractor Aerovironment, the Impact did more than just look cool. It could sprint from zero to 60 mph in a (then-quick) eight seconds and had achieved—in one test from 100 percent to absolute zero state of charge under ideal conditions at GM’s Arizona Desert Proving Grounds—a stunning 125 miles of range. At the time, that was better performance than any other practical electric car could claim.
Many saw it as the industry’s automotive future. Idealists cheered while skeptics scoffed. Politicians plotted to force-feed it to the American public. So positive was its press and public reception that on April 22, 1990 (Earth Day) GM CEO Roger Smith announced GM’s intent to produce such a car, targeting 25,000 units a year. Ken Baker, then head of Advanced Vehicle Engineering for GM’s Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group, was recruited to lead the effort.
“We recognized the obvious shortcoming of EVs,” Baker later said. “Our plan was to be battery agnostic—take the best available and focus on engineering the world’s most efficient vehicle, which would give dramatically better performance once a better battery came along. We had just come off of the success of the [race-winning solar-powered] SunRaycer and were encouraged by the sold-state electronics that had been demonstrated in that car, and [in] Impact
One key goal was to see how quickly and efficiently GM could do a completely different new car through a new Systems Engineering approach. The production target was just 36 months.
Then, by September 28, 1990, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) mandated the seven top-selling automakers to make two percent of their California sales “zero emissions” by 1998, five percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003.
Myth: GM’s EV program was a reaction to the CARB mandate.
Truth: Other way around. GM was already working to produce a practical electric car, so CARB decided to force all major automakers to follow suit.
Trends are never static. That is a fact. A little over 10 years ago, Kanye West’s shutter shades were all the rage. Thankfully, the fad disappeared, as most fads do. In the automotive industry, a specific type of vehicle became very popular: the pickup truck.
While pickup trucks can be seen everywhere nowadays, they were meant to be used as work vehicles back in the ’50s all the way to the early ’70s. As they became popular in the most recent years, several carmakers had a go at producing pickup trucks. Some pickup trucks have failed miserably in America. On the used car market, certain classic trucks are now worth a fortune, while some modern trucks have depreciated like crazy
Believe it or not, the ancestral lineage of the modern four-wheel-drive system dates to 1893. Bramah Joseph Diplock, an English engineer, patented a four-wheel-drive system that year, designed for a steam-powered traction engine. The concept was then adopted by would-be dignitaries in the self-propelled industry, including Ferdinand Porsche (in 1899), Daimler-Benz (1907), Marmon-Herrington (1931), and a host of others, including American Bantam, which designed the prototype general purpose vehicle that famously became the jeep built by Willys and Ford during World War II. Three decades later, the 4×4 drive system – offered by multiple corporations – had attained a long-established reputation for uncompromising off-road durability. In our latest edition of This or That, we’re celebrating 4×4 vehicles from the early Seventies. Let’s take a closer look at four examples for you to ponder, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.
Arguably, Jeep made the 4×4 vehicle both fun and affordable for the masses with a contemporary system that was truly battle-tested. Its proliferation beyond what became the CJ was hard to miss, offered in larger platforms such as this Commando-based Super Commando II from 1972. This was one of but a couple years in which the Commando line did not include the Jeepster name, and convertibles, like our featured vehicle, came standard with a removable hardtop, V-8 engine and, of course, the four-wheel-drive system. According to portions of the seller’s listing
The Commando had its own new front end and unique sheetmetal that made it one of the most distinctive Jeeps in decades. What makes this one even more distinct is it’s done in range-topping Super Commando II trim. While we don’t have the paperwork to confirm an SC2, the appearance absolutely shows the premium feeling correctly…The darker blue streak highlights the power bulge in the hood, and the full-length stripe is a reminder that these had flush-fitting front fenders…The sea of blue continues inside, and it shows off quite a comfy interior. You have high-back bucket seats with a velour pattern, and the door panels were even done to match…the dash has a great classic look with a clean pad, factory speedometer, heat/defrost controls, and even the locking hub instructions are still affixed. You’ll also notice well-integrated upgrades for more confident driving, including the auxiliary gauges…This optional 304 cubic-inch unit looks authentic and authoritative under the hood…A three-speed automatic transmission, power steering, and Goodyear tires make for a good all-around cruiser…Plus, don’t forget as a true jeep you have a proper two-speed 4×4 transfer case.